United States, Freedman's Bank Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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United States, Freedman's Bank Records, 1865-1874 .
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United States
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Record Description
Record Type Bank Deposit Records
Record Group RG 101: Records of the Comptroller of the Currency
Collection years 1865-1874
Microfilm Publication M816. Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865-1874. 27 rolls.
National Archives Identifier 566522
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites
National Archives and Records Administration

What is in the Collection?

The collection consists of an index and images of registers for 67,000 people who opened accounts in the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company. This is NARA microfilm publication M816 Registers of Depositors in Branches of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company. The records are from Record Group 101 Records of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The registers identify those who opened accounts. Because the Freedman’s Bank was required by law to protect the interests of depositors’ heirs, the branches collected an enormous amount of personal information about each depositor and his or her family when the account was opened. The registers cover approximately the years 1865 to 1874.

Each register book consists of printed forms, with information for four depositors on each page. The registers are arranged chronologically by the date the account was established and then numerically by account number. Many numbers are missing, a few are out of order, and some blocks of numbers were never used. Many registers seem to be missing.

The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company was established and incorporated by an act of Congress on March 3, 1865, as a banking institution in Washington, D.C., primarily for the benefit of freed slaves and former African American military personnel. It was commonly called the Freedman’s Bank; however, it was not under the supervision of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen’s Bureau).

Branches were located in the following cities:

  • Atlanta, Georgia 
  • Augusta, Georgia 
  • Baltimore, Maryland 
  • Beaufort, South Carolina 
  • Charleston, South Carolina 
  • Columbus, Mississippi 
  • Huntsville, Alabama 
  • Lexington, Kentucky 
  • Little Rock, Arkansas 
  • Louisville, Kentucky 
  • Lynchburg, Virginia 
  • Memphis, Tennessee 
  • Mobile, Alabama 
  • Nashville, Tennessee 
  • Natchez, Mississippi 
  • New Bern, North Carolina 
  • New Orleans, Louisiana 
  • New York, New York 
  • Norfolk, Virginia 
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
  • Raleigh, North Carolina 
  • Richmond, Virginia 
  • Savannah, Georgia 
  • Shreveport, Louisiana 
  • St. Louis, Missouri 
  • Tallahassee, Florida 
  • Vicksburg, Mississippi 
  • Washington, D.C. 
  • Wilmington, North Carolina

In 1874, overwhelmed by the effects of the Panic of 1873, mismanagement, abuse, and fraud, the Freedman’s Bank closed. Congress appointed a three-member board and later the Comptroller of the Currency to oversee the affairs of the bank. The Comptroller was made commissioner exofficio, and he submitted annual reports to Congress. The Freedman’s Bank final report was made in 1920. Contrary to what many of its depositors were led to believe, the bank’s assets were not protected by the federal government. While half of the depositors eventually received about three-fifths of the value of their accounts, others received nothing. Well into the 20th century, some depositors and their heirs were still seeking reimbursement for the remaining portions of their accounts. Depositors included about 67,000 African Americans, or about two percent of the former slave population. In addition, thousands of non–African Americans made deposits at the bank. These people were primarily immigrants who were born in the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Continental Europe. Depositors listed the names of close relatives. All together, the records lists about 480,000 names.

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Freedman's Bank Records, 1865-1874.

Collection Content

Sample Image

The registers may contain the following information:

  • Account number
  • Name of depositor
  • Date of application
  • Birthplace
  • Place brought up
  • Residence
  • Age
  • Complexion
  • Occupation
  • Name of employer
  • Spouse’s name
  • Children’s names
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s name
  • Brothers’ and sisters’ names

Additional information included only in the early books were:

  • Name of former master or mistress
  • Name of plantation
  • Regiment and company served in during the Civil War

Sometimes the following information is also included:

  • Wife’s maiden name or the name of a former spouse
  • Names of nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and in-laws
  • Residence of these individuals and whether they were living or dead
  • Death certificate copies

In addition to individuals, African American churches, private businesses, and beneficial societies also maintained accounts. Such accounts usually list the names of leaders, owners, or officials of those institutions.

What Can this Record Tell Me?

The Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company contain the records of 29 branches of the Freedman’s Bank. The registers identify those who opened accounts. Because the Freedman’s Bank was required by law to protect the interests of depositors’ heirs, the branches collected an enormous amount of personal information about each depositor and his or her family when the account was opened.

Registers of depositors are usually reliable because the information came from the depositor himself or from a close family member (in the case of children). Some errors may have been made in recording the information.

How Do I Search the Collection?

The Freedmen’s Bureau records are a major source of genealogical information about post Civil War African Americans. To begin your search it is helpful to know the name and some other identifying information such as age, residence or former owner. Freedman’s Bank registers are a good source to quickly identify a family group and residence. Use a person’s birthplace, age, and place of residence to search for census and other record types. The bank records probably identify persons for whom other records do not exist.

Search by Name by visiting the Collection Page:
Fill in the requested information in the initial search page. This search will return a list of possible matches. Compare the information about the ancestors in the list to what you already know about your ancestors to determine if this is the correct family or person. You may need to compare the information about more than one person to find your ancestor.

View images in this collection by visiting the Browse Page:
To search the collection you will need to follow this series of links:
⇒Select the "Browse" link in the initial search page
⇒Select the applicable "State and City"
⇒Select the "Roll Number, Date Range and Account Number Range" which takes you to the images

For tips about searching on-line collections see the on-line article FamilySearch Search Tips and Tricks.

What Do I Do Next?

Look at each image comparing the information with what you already know about your ancestors to determine if the image relates to them. You may need to look at several images and compare the information about the individuals listed in those images to your ancestors to make this determination.

I Found Who I was Looking for, What Now?

When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. Save a copy of the image or transcribe the information. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details such as a title, an occupation, or land ownership. Add this new information to your records of each family. You should also look for leads to other records about your ancestors. For example use the place of residence, age, and other information for each person to search for the individuals in census records and other types of records.

I Can't Find Who I'm Looking for, What Now?

  • There may be more than one person in the records with the same name.
  • Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for nicknames and abbreviated names.
  • Look for another index. Local genealogical and historical societies often have indexes to local records.
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.
  • Try alternative search methods such as only filling in the surname search box (or the given name search box) on the landing page leaving the other box empty and then click on search. This should return a list of everyone with that particular name. You could then browse the list for individuals that may be your ancestor.
  • Former slaves may have had used multiple names or changed their names until they decided upon one particular name. Search all possible names along with variations or spellings of their known names.

General Information About Freedmen's Bureau Records

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was established in the War Department in March of 1865. It was commonly called the Freedman’s Bureau and was responsible for the management and supervision of matters relating to refuges, freedmen, and abandoned lands. The Bureau assisted disenfranchised Americans, primarily African Americans, with temporal, legal and financial matters, with the intent of helping people to become self-sufficient. Matters handled included the distributing of food and clothing; operating temporary medical facilities; acquiring back pay, bounty payments, and pensions; facilitating the creation of schools, including the founding of Howard University; reuniting family members; handling marriages; and providing banking services. Banking services were provided by the establishment of the Freedman’s Saving and Trust Company, or Freedman’s Bank.

The Bureau functioned as an agency of the War Department from approximately June 1865 until December 1868. In 1872, the functions of the Bureau were transferred to the Freedmen’s Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office.

The Bureau assisted over one million African Americans, including many of the nearly four million emancipated slaves, which was over 25% of the population of former slaves in America.

The records identify those who sought help from the Bureau at the end of the Civil War. Most supplicants were freed slaves, some of which were military veterans. In addition, a few veterans who were not African Americans also sought help from the Bureau. Freedmen’s Bureau records are usually reliable, because the records were supplied through first-person correspondence or the recording of a marriage.

Citing this Collection

Citing your sources makes it easy for others to find and evaluate the records you used. When you copy information from a record, list where you found that information. Here you can find citations already created for the entire collection and for each individual record or image.

Collection Citation:

"United States, Freedmen's Bank Records, 1865-1874." Database with Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2016. Citing Freedman's Savings and Trust Company. National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C. NARA microfilm publication M816. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1970.

Record Citation (or citation for the index entry):

The citation for a record is available with each record in this collection, at the bottom of the record screen. You can search records in this collection by visiting the search page for United States, Freedman's Bank Records, 1865-1874.

Image Citation:

The image citation is available by clicking on the Information tab at the bottom left of the screen. You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Freedman's Bank Records, 1865-1874.

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